With Ohio still in the early stages of a wrenching transformation, the first glimmers of an alternative future can be seen in ventures such as Cleveland's JumpStart program. Housed in a brick building in the shadows of Progressive Field (formerly Jacobs Field), home to the Cleveland Indians baseball team, JumpStart is a self-described non-profit venture capital firm that aims to assist fledgling entrepreneurs.
JumpStart was formed several years ago after Entrepreneur magazine ranked northeast Ohio dead last among 61 U.S. regions for 10 of 12 years ended in 2002. CEO Ray Leach, 42, wants to spawn "knowledge-based" companies with products for global customers. So far, he's invested more than $9 million in 26 early-stage companies.
The aim is to help area entrepreneurs, including many who are midcareer veterans of large corporations, get far enough to attract private capital. One early success has been PreEmptive Solutions, a software company in Mayfield Village, just east of Cleveland, which has grown a blue-chip customer list that includes Microsoft, FedEx and the U.S. Army.
With PreEmptive Solutions employing around 25 people, it will take thousands of such successes, however, to fill the yawning void left by manufacturing's implosion. And asked whether it will be possible to retrain manufacturing workers for tomorrow's jobs, Leach answers: "That's what Ohio is going to find out, and find out on a very large scale."
The men at Amweld are coming to grips with exactly that challenge. In December, the U.S. Labor Department certified the steelworkers' lost jobs as trade-related, making the men eligible for aid under the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program. "A significant number of workers at the firm are age 50 or over and possess skills that are not easily transferable. Competitive conditions within the industry are adverse," read the government's antiseptic conclusion. The workers get two years of help with health care coverage, relocation allowances and retraining.
But as safety nets go, this is a thin one, and individual circumstances of age and health shape their decisions. At 32 years old, Brian Ulrich — Bob's son — feels he's young enough to start over, so the former high school football player has gone back to school, studying nursing at Kent State. When he graduates in two years, he figures he'll be able to earn almost $50,000 annually, about what he made at Amweld.
His dad, Bob, who started at Amweld after a tour of duty in Vietnam, has made a different choice. For him, times were good as recently as two years ago when he made a career-best $54,000. Learning a new career at age 58 doesn't seem like such a good idea. "If I go to school for two years, I'd be a 60-year-old man looking for work. It'd be ludicrous," he says, shaking his head in frustration.
He spends his time cycling among the remaining area manufacturers, filing résumés he knows are discarded as soon as he leaves. So far, he's had two job interviews.
Health insurance is a major worry for burly Charles Johnstone. At age 54, he's just endured a bout with colon cancer. Although the TAA provides a 65% tax credit on what he would spend for private insurance, that's a giant step down from the all-but-free coverage he had on the job.